Investigation into the torture of Ali Aarrass re-opened
On 24 June 2014, Amnesty International delegates raised the case of Ali Aarrass with Moroccan authorities in Rabat, including officials from the ministries of Interior, Justice and Liberties, Foreign Affairs and representatives of the national prison administration. They reiterated the organization’s calls to implement the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s decision to release him and to adequately investigate his reported torture and insisted on the fact that he had been convicted and sentenced on the basis of “confessions” reportedly obtained under torture. The authorities in the meeting suggested that Ali Aarrass’ allegations were old and that he is not currently complaining of torture, hence the need to continue pressing for the “confessions” tainted with torture allegations to be excluded. Such an investigation should include a forensic medical examination up to Istanbul Protocol standards, since the last forensic examination he was subjected to in 2011 was conducted inadequately and concluded he had not been tortured – while Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez and his forensic doctor concluded the contrary. In fact, the re-opening of the investigation into the torture of Ali Aarrass was announced on 21 May 2014, only two days after a decision by the UN Committee Against Torture on 19 May 2014. The Committee found that Moroccan authorities violated several articles of the Convention Against Torture with regard to Ali Aarrass and called on the authorities to open an investigation and report to the Committee within 90 days (the official decision is not yet available but will be shared once it is published). The Moroccan authorities also said to Amnesty International that the re-opening of the investigation is directly linked to Amnesty International’s work on his case. On 29 May, King Mohamed VI signalled his stance against torture by declaring during a meeting in Rabat with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that he “could not tolerate torture” while admitting there may be isolated cases. On 16 June 2014, Morocco's National Council for Human Rights also called for an investigation into several cases of reported torture including Ali Aarrass, in the institution's first public move in support of Ali Aarrass' case. Amnesty International has also asked Moroccan authorities to consider involving an international forensic expert to avoid any allegations of lack of independence or impartiality, building on the Committee Against Torture decision on Faysal Baraket in Tunisia (for more information see Tunisia: When bones speak: The struggle to bring Faysal Baraket's torturers to justice, MDE 30/016/2013, 8 October 2013). Delegates also met with the Belgian ambassador in Rabat on the issue of consular assistance and specifically on the need for a consular visit to Ali Aarrass in prison, which Belgian authorities have still not carried out three years and a half after his detention. They alleged having requested such consular visits on several occasions, in vain, while Moroccan authorities denied receiving any such requests. Amnesty International Belgium Francophone, who was represented at the meeting by the section’s director Philippe Hensmans, will follow-up on this issue. Meanwhile, the outcome of the appeal in Ali Aarrass’ court case in Belgium regarding Belgian authorities’ obligation to provide consular assistance will be announced on 11 September 2014. Since the announced investigation, Ali Aarrass has not yet been questioned and has not been given a forensic medical examination in line with the Istanbul Protocol and international standards, as specifically called for by the Committee Against Torture. He also remains imprisoned despite the UN Working Group for Arbitrary Detention’s call for his release.